Echoes of Dylan and Chris Gaffney in a fine collection from multi-instrumentalist Rick Wagner’s band project.
‘Moments of Truth’ is Luther Black and the Cold Hard Facts, the band project fronted by Rick Wagner, the follow-up to 2020’s self-titled debut. Wagner is the lead vocalist and plays guitars, bass, keys, drums and percussion, and harmonica, and provides the string arrangements, with support from Matt Wissler on guitar, mandolin, and backing vocals. Guest contributions include Rebecca Weiner Tompkins on violin and Andy Reidel on pedal steel.
All but one of the release’s twelve tracks are original compositions, the single exception being a cover of ‘Most of the Time’ from Bob Dylan’s 1989 ‘Oh Mercy’, and the most striking feature of the album is the clear influence of Dylan throughout, notably in Wagners’ vocal styling. On ‘Most of the Time’ he delivers a sensitive reading of the master’s work, with heartfelt vocals.
The album features two instrumentals, the opening track ‘America’s Moment’ with echoes of Ry Cooder’s filmic work, and ‘The Pilgrim’s Plight’, featuring melodic picked acoustic guitar.
‘Guilty’ follows the Dylanesque thread, a story song with echoes of Dylan’s great epic ‘Mississippi’, in its refrain “I’m guilty of the crime”, over a driving beat building from the intro.
If there’s a lyrical theme to pick out from the album’s originals it’s the challenges faced by the underdog, notably on ‘The Rest of My Days’, where Wagner sings “Slapped in the face/by the cold hands of time/I keep running this race/but I feel left behind/got nowhere to go/left out in the cold/for the rest of my days” over a slow tempo guitar and gentle percussion, with violin from Tompkins.
A more positive take on life’s challenges is found in ‘Long Way to Go’, where Wagner sings of “working all day on the graveyard shift” but with the hope that “one of these days I’m gonna break free, gonna scale the prison walls of that factory”.
A different note is struck in ‘Before I Stop Loving You’, a love song with a gentle lilt, Wagner telling “I don’t know why the robins sing…but the one thing I know is true/this world’s gonna end before I stop loving you”. ‘Hold on to Your Dreams‘ shares the track’s relaxed tempo, with a nostalgic feel emphasised by the string arrangement, and Wagner’s vocals displaying more than a hint of the fine vocals of the sadly departed Chris Gaffney, best known for his work with the Hacienda brothers.
A fine set of Dylan-influenced songs by talented multi-instrumentalist Wagner.